About a year ago, President Trump signed the Family First Prevention Service Act into law. Social workers engaged in child and family care praised the legislation as the first “prevention” measure to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care. The act emphasized the importance of children growing up in families and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their special needs when foster care is needed.
A Brief Summary
- The act provides federal funds under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, beginning in FY2020, to support evidence-based prevention efforts for 1) mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services and 2) in-home parent skill-based services.
- Federal funding is limited to children in family foster homes, qualified residential treatment programs and special treatment settings for pregnant or parenting teens, youth 18 and over preparing to transition from foster care to adulthood and youth who have been found to be – or are at risk of becoming – sex trafficking victims.
- The new dollars for preventing children from entering foster care and restricting federal funds for group care take effect in FY 2020 (or states may choose to delay until no later than 2022) so states can make necessary accommodations.
- Offers additional support for relative caregivers by providing federal funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs.
- Allows Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program funds to be used for unlimited family reunification services for children in foster care.
- Extends for five years the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program.
- Requires states to have statewide plans to track and prevent child maltreatment fatalities.
- Establishes a competitive grant program to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality foster families.
- Helps address opioids and other substance abuse.
- Supports youth transitioning from care.
- Promotes permanent families for children.
We were surprised when talking to social workers about the act that we were hearing mixed reactions.
- Everyone agrees that at its core it is a good concept.
- The biggest win most seem to say is that some federal money will now be available earlier in the child protection/well-being process.
- The problem is, others say, that Family First funds kick in only once significant abuse and neglect have already occurred.
- Since the abuse and neglect have already occurred, in order for a child to be eligible for funds, at best you can call this early intervention, not prevention. Social workers may miss important signposts if they begin to see this program as preventing abuse.
- Another observation reminds social workers that Family First envisions placing children with relatives informally, outside the court process, which in turn will deprive them of critical support services and programs available only when you license the relative as a foster parent.
- The Family First funding directed toward prevention is available to “at-risk” families for up to 12 months. What happens if mom or dad are not fully rehabilitated in 12 months?
- Finally, everyone agrees that more steps toward prevention are very helpful. Social workers we have talked to say that this act is a realistic first step toward a more in-depth conversation about what true “prevention” is.
As we get ever closer to 2020, when this funding will begin to kick in, the entire social work community is optimistic about the possibilities of erecting a more effective prevention program going forward. We'd love to hear your thoughts about this issue and the Family First program.